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Vladimír Mečiar: "The hens aren't laying eggs"

Former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar spoke with Daniel J. Stoll, one of the owners of The Slovak Spectator, in the western spa town of Trenčianské Teplice on November 19. What follows below is the second part of the interview, in which Mečiar talks about the current political situation in the country.
Daniel J. Stoll (DJS): Do you find it ironic that many of the communists that people fought to be rid of in 1989 are again in powerful positions?


photo: Peter Brenkus

Former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar spoke with Daniel J. Stoll, one of the owners of The Slovak Spectator, in the western spa town of Trenčianské Teplice on November 19. What follows below is the second part of the interview, in which Mečiar talks about the current political situation in the country.


Daniel J. Stoll (DJS): Do you find it ironic that many of the communists that people fought to be rid of in 1989 are again in powerful positions?

Vladimír Mečiar (VM): In 1990, my non-aggressive approach to the communists enabled them to disperse throughout different political parties as they each identified with different party programs. This approach was hotly debated at the time, but eventually my way won out. The result is that the communist party in Slovakia is very weak. However, if you look today at the Czech Republic, the communist party commands 23% support against only 2% in Slovakia. So this proves that the strategy was correct at the time.

But there were many in the communist party who were well-versed in politics and knew how to organise themselves. So it's no surprise that the former general secretary of the Central Committee of the Slovak Communist Party is today the chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee [Peter Weiss - SDĽ], or that the vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party is today the Minister of Defence [Pavol Kanis - SDĽ]. The director of the school department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is now the Speaker of Parliament [Jozef Migaš - SDĽ]. And the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is today the President of Slovakia [Rudolf Schuster]. In parliament today there are more than 100 members of the former communist party.

This situation doesn't give me a great feeling when I see what is happening, but logically I understand that this stage is only temporary and transient.



photo: Ján Kuchta

IMAGE

DJS: In the West, you don't have a good image. You are called an autocrat and a dictator, and your name is mentioned in the same breath as that of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Ukraine President Leonid Kucma and Croatia's Franjo Tudjman. Do you think this is fair? Why does it happen?

VM: There are some moments that are connected to me which damaged my image. A big part of the negative image came when I fought for Slovakia against the Czechs. At that time, characteristics and deeds were attributed to me that I've never had and never did.

The second moment - we charted are own relatively independent course in international relations. We didn't support some things that the United States or the Russian Federation supported because we thought they were wrong. Internally we chose to transform the country by seeking to empower a Slovak middle class instead of selling our property to international monopolies. Foreign powers were not happy about this.

The third moment - we absolutely didn't master the art of dealing with the media and positive image creation. In Slovakia, nobody knows how to do this even today.

So it's no surprise that when we were in a position where we weren't so 'dependent' on someone, many doubts existed about our willingness to integrate into Europe and NATO, which really was our aim. In some things we had our reservations, but the West had to say that there was no democracy in Slovakia so that they could fight for democracy.

The result of this fight was an agreement between 11 different parties to form a government after the 1998 elections, which is unstable and unqualified. The government has done more stupid things to hurt ordinary people in one year than was done in the entire previous nine years. They hide their incompetence by blaming me for everything.

Because in Slovakia it's this way: the bus is late, the hens aren't laying eggs - it must be my fault. They [government parties] feel threatened by me so they continue to beat me up. All this is really absurd and ridiculous, and I admit that I have often thought of leaving politics all together. Had they not persecuted people who had the same ideas as me, I would be gone.


DJS: How are you seeking to improve your image?

VM: If I want to have a political career, I have to work on my image. I am not willing to do this. I ask myself if what is written about me is really true or if my deeds were different. I am confident that what I did is different than most of what was written.

But to a certain extent I think that the countries that gave me a bad image are covering up a peculiar quality they have - an inability to work with people who have alternate and independent views.


POWERDJS: People who are against you reproach you for seeking absolute power, and say that you want to dictate everything. For example, do you think your struggle for power with former President Michal Kováč was bad for Slovakia?

VM: Very bad. It really harmed us, and even provoked a crisis leading to early elections in 1994. The choice of Michal Kováč was one of the most dramatic mistakes [the HZDS made] and one of the most difficult to repay. It wasn't personal from my side. You can see that I can work together with new President Rudolf Schuster, who was my opponent before. But with Kováč it wasn't possible. He spoke a lot about why we didn't work together, while I have yet to speak about it. One day I'll clarify the matter. A few days after he became president I visited him. The result of our three-hour discussion was that if I had known beforehand what I learned then, I would never have allowed him to be sworn in as president. But it stayed between us and I have yet to go public. Kováč has a bad character. And as a politician he worked only for himself.


DJS: He could say the same thing about you, no?

VM: He could say the same thing about me but there is a difference. When Kováč left his position, no one wanted to work with him. I have the support of 43% of Slovaks [Mečiar received 42.8% of votes in the second round of May presidential elections]. So it's incomparable.

DJS: What do you regret regarding your time in power?

VM: I have a complete vision of how Slovakia could be in 30 years' time. My mission as Prime Minister was to carry out this vision. All the big changes in the country were a result of me. What politician in the world has done as much in such a short time as me? Build a state, a currency, a stable market, security structures, international relationships... of course, there were a lot of things I didn't have time to accomplish.

My only regret is that my dream for a prosperous Slovakia, where good wins over evil, is a dream without an end for me. This makes me sorry. I really regret that many people never understood that I always served them, I never knew of anything different besides their interests. Many people don't speak about my accomplishments but rather attack my personality so they can hide their own weakness.


POLITICSDJS: In the last election - in which the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) won the most votes - not one party wanted to work with the HZDS except maybe the Slovak National Party (SNS). If you win the next election, which party could you work with?

VM: There is a myth that people were looking forward to the creation of this government. It's not true. This government was created from an agreement between the leaders of the different parties.

The fact that we had been in power for a long time meant that we had fought hard against the communists, whom we continually pressed. We came to blows with those who didn't want an independent Slovakia. We fought with parties who didn't share our view for economic and social transforamtion.

These parties, who had always been defeated by us, united in their desire to return the favour. This [government] is again a union against something which doesn't have a positive program. After the election, when I was silent, they lost their common bond. This is when it became apparent that they lacked a clear program and stability.

After the election we didn't want to work with the SNS. We were in a coalition with the Slovak National Party and the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS). But when the government did positive things, verbal statements by leaders of the other coalition parties really harmed the HZDS. Hardly anybody distinguished the government as a group of coalition partners. It was always referred to as the 'Mečiar' government, so people added Jan Luptak's and Jan Slota's words to mine.


DJS: You've often said that you believe there will be early elections next year. Ninety votes are needed in parliament to call early elections, which means you would have to convince 33 deputies in the coalition for this to happen. How are you going to do this?

VM: I'll tell you how. What did the results of the election bring us? A violation of the basic principles of democracy. We've stopped being a lawful state. The economy is in decay. There was never social unrest under my government like there is today. Every week there is another social protest. And the coalition parties have no idea how to proceed. They are without programmes.

How can this situation change? The democratic means to bring about a change are early elections. By no means are we driving people to protest, but we could do this. In 2000, the scale could tip in the direction where the government changes or the coalition could fall apart, in which case it would be best to call early elections. There are some politicians who are calculating, let the coalition disintegrate, but then drag the HZDS into government. They admit that nobody but the HZDS has a workable economic program for the development of the country, or the people to implement it. That's why I think objectively that early elections are ripe to occur.

EU and NATO

DJS: The current government is trying to make reforms in banking, privatisation, and to bring business practices into line with those common in the European Union. Slovakia will probably be asked to join NATO in 2002 and join the EU as early as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. If you become Prime Minister again, will you continue these reforms or will you return to your policies of the mid 1990's which isolated Slovakia?

VM: There's a saying that you can never enter the same river twice. That's why in 1998 the election unfolded the way it did. There was a lot of international interference in internal developments. In spite of this pressure, I secured that the elections finished in a democratic way.

Regarding EU integration, we never had a different goal. We only wanted to discuss things with them. We didn't accept the method their bureaucrats ordered, especially if it was stupid and we weren't allowed to comment on it. Once upon a time it may have been acceptable this way, but we didn't want the European Union to be the stronger partner or to take steps which weakened trust.

Regarding NATO, we performed all programs in the Partnership for Peace conscientiously. For example, military technical preparation, which was the part that was dependent on the government, was excellent. The part that was connected to internal political life, where co-operation was needed between political parties and actors, was not good. It's not good even today, but everything depends on how you look at it.

Slovakia doesn't have any other alternative than to travel down the path to NATO and the EU. Citizens just have to say whether or not they accept this decision through a referendum.

DJS: Are you more comfortable in the company of the Russians than with the West?

VM: This isn't a fair assessment. I engaged with the Russians, which was in Slovakia's interest. The Russians never gave us an ultimatum and never harassed us to work together. It's the simple truth that there are countries in the EU which are still caught up in Cold War thinking. They see Russia as a hawk sees food. For me, I imagine a Russia that will be a democratic country that co-operates with all European countries. We supported those democratic forces.

On the other hand, we changed markets, and where exports used to be only eight percent to the EU, now they account for 80%. Nobody talks about this. We tied the Slovak crown to the German mark, which again nobody mentions. It didn't fit their view to talk about it. The whole economy, foreign trade, foreign relations, intention for integration, everything we directed toward the European Union. But they gave us a label that was absolute nonsense and which was mostly touted by those nations stuck in the Cold War.

MEDIA

DJS: Do you think that western countries judged you unfairly?

VM: I wouldn't say that 'countries' judged us. Rather, there were economic groups involved in energy, gas and banking that I didn't allow to take part in privatisation because it was simply not in the interest of the state at that time. There were also political groups who wanted to have, in every government, people from whom they knew what to expect. They don't very much like people from whom they don't know what to expect. I'd also say that Western politicians are suspicious of charismatic leaders who appeal to a large number of voters at home.

So I wouldn't say that states harmed our image, but rather the media and some circles in the US who didn't agree with the fact that Czechoslovakia no longer existed.


DJS: What is your standpoint regarding media? Many times you've come to blows with the media including The Slovak Spectator. Don't you regard an independent media as one of the most important parts of a democratic society?

VM: The biggest risk to democracy is the manipulation of information which the media regularly does. I am not against journalists just because they are journalists. I am against manipulation, against those who knowingly play with information with incorrect intentions instead of keeping to the truth. This is what weakens democracy and should be stopped.

REGRETS

DJS: Do you admit that some individuals in your government made mistakes? Do you think that they should be brought to justice?

VM: Mistakes can have various origins - lack of knowledge of new problems, lack of experience, lack of alternatives. Then there are mistakes that break the law. Regarding the first kind, we made mistakes, no doubt, but we found our way. Regarding the second kind, this [Dzurinda] government announced to all citizens that every member of my government must be accountable for what he or she did. So far, no one has proven a single legal violation.

This government has devised special schemes to send me to prison at any price. And so they look for witnesses, deeds, and even publicly appeal to journalists to look for something at all costs. Why? Because they are afraid of me. It's fear.


DJS: But what about your party? Are you disappointed by some people in your party who took advantage of privatisation?

VM: Of course. When you embark on such a huge process like privatisation, it's always going to happen that at the margins are people who come just for their self-interest. But these are the first people who are gone. We are currently initiating a very long process of self-reflection in our party. Those who have failed us, we are forcing out. New people of all ages are entering the party with an unequivocal political orientation to do things that have never been done.

THE PEOPLE'S PARTY

DJS: There has been speculation that next year the HZDS will change from a 'Movement' into a 'Party.' Are you in favour of this?

VM: The HZDS is not going away, only changing from a people's movement to a people's party. We are doing this because we want to create a positive position for Slovakia on the international stage. This can only be guaranteed by having strong international affiliations. This will by no means be simple to achieve. Not only do we have to fight against prejudice from outside our borders, but we have to battle parties within our borders that have already made strong international ties, like the Christian Democratic Movement - our rivals for 10 years. If I evaluate the position of our rivals, I can see that we have much to do.

But I can say today that the traditional type of party in Slovakia is dead. The HZDS needs to become contemporary in order for it to exist in Slovakia long into the future. Whether you want to or not, a change is needed.


DJS: Do you think that your party can continue to survive with only one strong leader? Without Mečiar?

VM: I absolutely don't see it that way. It's true that I enjoy a high level of confidence inside the party. It's true that I have stabilised the party after the disappointment of the election, but nothing more. The HZDS is an organisation, having governed Slovakia, with unique and highly intelligent people with much experience. Whatever direction the party takes, with or without me, I have no fear for the destiny of the HZDS. I can influence and support measures, but I don't think that everything is up to me.

REFLECTION

DJS: Are you the father of Slovakia?

VM: Well, some people respect me, some hate me.


DJS: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

VM: There were two moments. First, in changing the communist system, we created laws that protected human and civil rights.


DJS: What do you mean?

VM: It means that the position of people and citizens in society started to change. There are still some people who don't value this change. This was my initiative along with the chairman of the Czech government.

The second moment was when we Slovaks rose from life as a nationality to become a real, living country, and that we built the foundation for globalisation, which means that Slovakia will join the international community. Nobody before me for 1,000 years was able to accomplish this. This incredible historical moment is, as always in Slovakia, the subject of much hate and love. To a certain degree, this historical fact complicates my life terribly.

Translated by Daniel J. Stoll
and Renata Stoll

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